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With Larry Ferlazzo

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School Climate & Safety Opinion

What Do Restorative Practices Look Like in Schools?

By Larry Ferlazzo — February 27, 2024 9 min read
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Today’s post is Part Three in a series on implementing restorative practices in schools.

Supporting ‘Human Dignity’

Ann H. Lê, Ed.D., is a published author and speaker across diverse educational areas, including special education, discipline, behavior, and restorative practices. She is a former assistant director of special education and currently serves as a special education advocate and educational consultant:

The state of our society today is drastically different from even five years ago, and the effects of the COVID pandemic exacerbated not only the field of education but also the overall well-being of adults and children. Schools and home have experienced the escalation and intensity of mental health, social emotional, and behavioral outputs of children and adults. In simple terms, the changes in behavior that educators witness in schools is not isolated to just our young scholars but also within ourselves as adults, which then impacts how we respond to student behaviors.

Our responsibility as educators is to help our young scholars develop the skills they will need to be effective citizens and contributors to their communities, and that goes beyond academics. We have a moral obligation to mentor and shape them to be able to distinguish right from wrong and analyze the choices they have in order to make morally sound decisions. Therefore, when we only impose punitive or retributive measures in response to any poor decisions they may have made without looking closely at the underlying causes of these behavioral outbursts, we are essentially depriving them of the opportunity to comprehend their poor decisionmaking and how those decisions affect them, their peers, and their community.

We need to practice and advocate a mind shift where “bad behavior” is viewed as a missing skill (skills-based deficit) that needs to be learned rather than a deliberate choice of the individual. All humans respond to any given situation with whatever skills and knowledge they have in their tool belt, and we can acknowledge that that alone will vary for each individual based on the extent of opportunities.

Expulsion and suspension interfere with young scholars’ academic progress and damages their sense of belonging at school. Restorative practice is humanistic. Intentional, inclusive, and respectful ways of thinking about, communicating about, and handling behavioral challenges are made available to students and caring adults through restorative practices. Restorative practices, when used in a school environment, support relationship development and repair, highlight student autonomy, and downplay harsh punishment in favor of dialogue to resolve conflicts. This growth and development will serve the young scholar beyond their K-12 educational career.

Restorative practices in schools can look like:

· Using affective (or I) statements – brief statements to make someone aware of the impact of their behavior (positive or negative) to another individual; an alternative to comments that are implicitly judgmental and can lead to confrontation, argument, and further conflict.

· Active listening - redirects the listener’s focus from what is going on inside of their head to the needs of the speaker; demonstrates that the speaker is valued and what they are expressing matters.

· Community-building (or reentry) circles – builds empathy among the students and reduces negative attacking behaviors that can exist in classrooms.

· Setting classroom agreements or norms – student-driven values created as a community leading to increased buy-in.

· Incorporate daily morning meetings – develops relationships with students, assesses their social and emotional thinking, and determines the direction and focus of the instructional day.

· Utilize goal setting with students - students take ownership of areas they would like to improve (academically or socially), and they set realistic and attainable goals for themselves.

· Curiosity questioning – genuine questions asked to learn more about an individual’s situation and helps go beyond the surface of an issue and into helping to resolve a conflict.

· Restorative chats – used when students do not meet the norms that were established in the classroom and is centered on the following five questions: What happened? What were you thinking at the time? What have you thought about since? Who (and in what way) has been affected by what you have done? What do you think you need to do to make things right?

· Goal conferences - teachers can check in to see if students are on track to meet their goals, and students learn to self-check and refocus as needed.

Restorative practices represent a step forward in teaching all students—from elementary school through middle school and high school—how to resolve disputes amicably, take ownership of their actions, and practice empathy, perspective taking, and forgiveness. Restorative practices underpin the science of human dignity.


‘Individuals Learn From Harmful Behaviors’

Sebrina Lindsay-Law, Ed.D., is an educator and diversity consultant. Contact her through email, sebrina@evle.org:

In our school, some students were vandalizing the school bathrooms. The adults understood we needed the collective community to solve the challenge of students vandalizing the bathrooms. This was my upclose experience with restorative practices in action.

As an educator, I could see that learning all the theories alone was limited; without the ability to apply them, there was limited transformational change. Staff members and students conducted a series of restorative circles to discuss the school bathrooms being vandalized. We looked at our systems and practices and made some commitments as individuals and teams. The foundation used to improve school systems and practices was restorative practices.

Restorative practices is a term used in the educational setting and is similar to restorative justice, which is used with numerous cities and justice systems to address interactions or exchanges that impact individuals, communities, and other environments. Restorative practices are accountability principles to enhance interactions with educators, families, and peers established in mutual respect and care; providing the necessary resources and standards to build relationships and rapport with educators, families, and peers; minimizing, preventing, and acknowledging harmful behavior; and holding all individuals accountable for their role in various interactions and exchanges.

Another way restorative practices were in action for me was through a formal restorative-practices conference. I had an opportunity to be a restorative-practices facilitator. Seeing families, students, and educators genuinely come together to improve the school community one word, action, and belief at a time was priceless.

I learned three valuable lessons about restorative practices in both instances. First, in restorative environments, everyone can grow, learn, and value self and others. This does not mean individuals must be perfect, but they must understand and value one another.

Second, restorative practices’ design, implementation, and refinement must be responsive to the community. The theory in action must be clearly communicated through intense professional learning, communication, and application.

Finally, if implemented well, all individuals learn from harmful behaviors and seek to be more proactive and affirming with self and community members. Implementation must start with equitable and inclusive mindsets and values for self and the larger community.


‘Teach Pro-Social Skills’

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey are professors of educational leadership at San Diego State University and teacher leaders at Health Sciences High:

Restorative practices are a collection of tools that educators can use to help students understand the impact of their actions. These practices can be combined with other systems, such as PBIS and multitiered system of supports, as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing problematic student behavior. The goal is that students learn from the mistakes they make rather than simply suffering the consequences of their actions. Of course, there are consequences for our actions. But learning that your actions caused harm and how to repair that harm can result in long-term changes in behavior.

The foundation for restorative practices is respect and creating a climate in which respect is practiced. In addition, relationships must be valued and nurtured in a restorative school. If a student believes the teacher does not like them, or has a very strained relationship with the teacher, it’s harder for restorative practices to take hold. It’s not impossible, as the student likely has a positive relationship with someone at school, and that person can help the student see the impact of their actions.

The emphasis in restorative-practices schools is largely proactive Therefore, investment is primarily relationships and forums for resolving “garden variety” problems. There are a number of common features of restorative schools, such as class meetings, impromptu conversations, and circles, which allow students to hear from others about the impact that their actions, both positive and negative, have on others. When these practices are commonplace, students learn to vocalize their feelings and reactions.

When a situation is more serious, more formal practices are typically enacted, such as restorative conversations and victim-offender dialogues. Without experience sharing their feelings and reactions, these more formal practices are not likely to work because the whole experience will be unfamiliar to students. These more formal practices typically require staff members with more experience with restorative practices and an investment with students in advance of the resolution meeting.

Importantly, restorative practices are a philosophy that requires educators to believe that their role is to teach, not just content, but to also teach pro-social skills. As with all learning, students are bound to make mistakes and require reteaching and additional learning. When it comes to problematic behavior, that does not mean consequences are forbidden, but rather that we also ensure that students are learning about the harm they cause and how to repair that harm.


Thanks to Ann, Sebrina, Douglas, and Nancy for contributing their thoughts.

The question of the week is:

What are restorative practices and what do they look like in schools?

In Part One, Marie Moreno, Chandra Shaw, Angela M. Ward, and David Upegui shared their experiences.

In Part Two, Ivette Stern, Caroline Selby, Gholdy Muhammad, Nadine Ebri, and Tatiana Chaterji discussed their experiences.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 12 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list here.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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